it was never the case that all terrorists were Muslim
So on the occasion of the apparent demise of the Tamil Tigers, it’s worth pointing out that it was never in fact true, as was often stated in the days and years following 9/11, that all of the world’s terrorists were Muslim, or Islamists. (This was often phrased in the “Not all Muslims are terrorists, it’s true, but all terrorists are Muslims!” formulation.) The Tamil Tigers have been an extant and active terrorist group that was not in any sense an Al-Qaeda-style Islamic terrorist group. They were ethnic separatists. Similarly, the Shining Path, though largely inactive now, is a still existing non-Muslim, non-Arab terrorist group; they’re neo-Maoists. And while the IRA has almost entirely been pacified, except for certain fringe splinter groups, there’s no question that they or their affiliates engaged in terrorist attacks when they were still active; it would entail a weird focus on tricks of timing to think that a change of a decade or so makes a vast difference when considering these issues. When people said or continue to say that all terrorists are Muslims, they were just wrong, and they are just wrong, and there’s no other way to put it.
Now you might say that all this has little consequence for policy. And you’d be right! But then, it’s the people making the (false) categorical statements who have to be asked what, exactly, they think they are getting at when they (falsely) insist that only Muslims are terrorists. They tend to be studious in avoiding making explicit the implication that somehow all Muslims are to blame, or that Islam itself is the enemy, or similar. You might say that this is unfair, but I ask again, what is the purpose of these kind of strange categorical assignments of guilt, if not to gin up anti-Muslim sentiment, or to excuse such sentiment where it already exists? What is the purpose?
If nothing else, we should hold people to certain standards of accuracy when they make factual claims about the world, and just as we should call bullshit when people insist, as many did following 9/11, that no Muslim countries have freedom of religion, we need to say that it simply isn’t true that all of the world’s terrorists are Muslims. I don’t know if that tells us much that can help us navigate choppy waters, but the way we interrogate our problems matters, and we should remember that there seems to be a tendency for some to want to make bullshit categorical statements when those statements help them appear tough, or superior, or help them leverage their preferred geopolitical aims.